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Xavi downplays Barcelona Champions League expectations ahead of Royal Antwerp clash

Xavi downplays Barcelona Champions League expectations ahead of Royal Antwerp clash

Barcelona manager Xavi Hernandez has set a Champions League round of 16 berth as the primary objective for his side ahead of their curtain-raiser clash against Royal Antwerp.

The Belgian Pro League side are one of three teams the Blaugranas will face in Group H for a place in the knockout round alongside Porto and Shakhtar Donetsk. 

The La Liga title holders have enjoyed an impressive start to the 2023/24 campaign, shrugging off an early goalless draw against Getafe to win four games on the trot, picking up 13 points while scoring as many goals in the process.

Xavi has called on the Catalan faithful to rally behind the team as they embark on another Champions League challenge, with Barca kicking off their continental campaign on home turf.

“It is time to take a step forward and become great again,” Xavi, who is poised to extend his contract with Barca, said in a press conference (via SPORT) ahead of the Antwerp clash. 

“We start at home – we need the fans. We want to give continuity to what happened on the day of the [Real] Betis. We are very excited.

“The objective is to advance from the group. The bar at this moment is to go step by step. To advance to the round of 16 as first in the group.

“Last year in play we were good, but the result was not enough. We have strengthened ourselves well, and we have a squad to compete in Europe. 

“But it is not about words – it is about actions.”

Barca head into the clash on the back of an exceptional 5-0 victory over one of last season’s high-flyers Real Betis, with five different goalscorers getting on the scoresheet.

Xavi hopes his side can carry their exciting form into Tuesday’s contest and kick off their group stage campaign with a positive result, having failed to progress in last season’s tournament.

“Last year we had a lot of misfortune in the draw,” Xavi added. “Bayern [Munich] is always strong, and Inter [Milan] sneaked into the Champions League final.

“This is the Champions League, and Antwerp is a good team. Their two wingers are bullets – it is a dynamic team.

“Saturday is proof that by playing that way we can compete. Then in the round of 16, we will see, but first, you have to pass.”

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